World Humanitarian Summit Reflections

Sam Amiel, JDC's Senior Program Director, International Development Program and Asia/Africa Region, discusses his participation in the first-ever UN World Humanitarian Summit, an event bringing together global organizations to share best practices related to improving humanitarian aid.

May 31, 2016

Global religious leaders, including JDC, at a key session during the summit on Faith and Humanitarian Sam Amiel

Sam Amiel, JDC’s Senior Program Director, International Development Program and Asia/Africa Region, discusses his participation in the first-ever UN World Humanitarian Summit, an event bringing together global organizations to share best practices related to improving humanitarian aid.

1. What was the significance for JDC of the first World Humanitarian Summit being held in Turkey, given our organization’s longstanding partnership with the Turkish Jewish community?

It was both symbolic that the first UN Humanitarian Summit was held in Istanbul, the city where JDC began its history and where one can still see our footprint in establishing many of the present community’s historical organizations. However, in the last few decades, Turkey is a country where JDC blends its Jewish community development work with our more universal work in disaster response assistance in times of emergency, whether an earthquake or the global refugee crisis.

2. What were the standout best practices shared during the summit related to humanitarian aid, and in particular, JDC’s work?

The summit was a great opportunity to be among policy makers, practitioners, and supporters of humanitarian work from across the globe. A special session on faith and humanitarian work featured the work of our partners Sarvodaya of Sri Lanka and CADENA of Mexico. JDC was also recognized as a leading faith-based humanitarian organization.

The issue of forced displacement/migrant and refugee assistance was prominent given the current high levels of refugee migration across theMiddle East and Europe.

Best practices in disaster response was of particular relevance to JDC and many other humanitarian groups and an innovation marketplace featured the latest technologies in humanitarian work and many new resources.

3. What are some of the key trends in the humanitarian aid space today?

The summit meant to foster the professional and moral thrust to the work we do around the globe as humanitarian actors, especially poignant for us as Jews who are eager to learn from and share with others our best practices.

Four trends, central to JDC’s operating philosophy, emerged:

The first was the importance of disaster risk reduction as a strategy for mitigating the affects of disasters. This is a part of every disaster response we lead and an area we are firmly committed to, working with communities to ensure they are prepared to take on the next crisis and disaster in an efficient way that empowers all community members to take part in relief and rebuilding.

Another trend, quite prominent, was that aid must be locally driven and we must listen more closely to those we are aiding. At the summit, several NGOs committed to ensuring that a percentage of their funds are channeled through local entities. This is critically important to JDC and since the vast majority of our projects are managed through partnerships with local entities and driven by local needs, we were happy to see this was high on the agenda.

The issue of inclusion of people with disabilities within humanitarian response was also highlighted. JDC, which works with people with disabilities across its global operations, especially in Israel, has been mindful to work this way. Our planning works to ensure that people with disabilities are part of the decision-making process for community managed disaster risk reduction.

Another major topic of conversation and plenaries was the failure of the humanitarian system to meet critical needs and the need to look at innovative financing mechanisms. Thisis exactly what JDC will achieve with our newest development program, Tikkun Olam Ventures (TOV), where philanthropic dollars will be leveraged to create social businesses in Africa that deploy Israeli technology to small holder poor farmers.

4. Of the relief efforts highlighted at the summit, what caught your attention/stood out?

The training efforts stood out to me. As the humanitarian field grows – with $25 billion a year being invested in humanitarian aid today – so too does the need to ensure that practitioners share best practices and training in relevant areas.

As JDC’s long-standing nonsectarian development program evolves to be more strategic and focused, in particular, on areas such as disaster response and disaster mitigation, we have great opportunities to be an active player in the international community of relief agencies and humanitarian organizations.

Of important note were African policy makers and practitioners who presented new initiatives related to critically important populations such as youth and women. A session on monitoring and evaluation highlighted the importance of transparency and professionalism in reporting, but also explored the tensions that appear between partners such as donors, service providers, and recipient groups.

A truly special moment for me was on the first day when Benjamin Laniado, the president of CADENA –the Mexican Jewish relief Agency and our new partner — spoke at the special session on ‘Faith and Humanitarian Aid.’ Speaking in Spanish, he eloquently described to a room filled with senior clergy from across the globe how the deeply held Jewish values of tikkun olam and tzedakah reinforced the global humanitarian principles being discussed at the summit.

Mr. Laniado and I took advantage of being in Istanbul together and met with the Istanbul Jewish community leadership to introduce them to CADENA and create bridges for sharing and Jewish connection.

I also enjoyed reconnecting with Muzaffer Bacca, president of the International Blue Crescent, a widely respected Muslim relief agency and long-standing partner of JDC in Turkey and the region.

5. What message was sent in JDC and other Jewish and Israeli groups being present at the summit?

Above all, it was a reminder that we are indeed global citizens and integral players in the vast and important system dedicated to serving humanity and alleviating suffering.

For us at JDC, it was another opportunity to be at the table with those groups we have long relationships with (and new groups we are becoming acquainted with), demonstrating our commitment to ensuring hope in places filled with despair, and our enthusiasm to deploy our expertise from Jewish and nonsectarian communities for the betterment of all humankind.

Many people call it tikkun olam. We say it’s all in day’s work.

Senior Program Director, International Development Program and Asia/Africa Region

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